Volume 5, Issue 1
AHI President’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.
The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.
Importance of Tolerance Focus of Second Annual St. Andrew's Human Rights & Religious Freedom Reception
AHI attended the second annual reception for human rights and religious freedom held on Capitol Hill, November 29, 2012. Remarks were provided by U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Congresswoman-elect Dina Titus (D-NV).
Keynote Speaker Ivan Vejvoda, vice president, German Marshall Fund, spoke about the importance of tolerance. He stated the United States is a country that embraces those of all faiths because people know that they “have the right to have a right.” He discussed the history of Yugoslavia, a country which no longer exists, and how the concepts of human rights and religious freedom broke down when the country broke down. History, as it turns out, can repeat itself in the most evil ways yet we are brought up to believe that history must never occur again. If there are no civic energies or courageous individuals within a country, no outside help will make the situation any better for those on the inside. Vejvoda concluded by reminding attendees that the struggle for human rights and religious freedom is a necessity and one that cannot be taken for granted. It should be fought for daily and done so with passion and courage.
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Next Phase of U.S.-Turkey Strategic Partnership Examined
AHI attended a panel discussion on the partnership between the United States and Turkey which was hosted by the Brookings Institution on December 4, 2012. The panelists examined how a quickly changing Middle East has affected the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. in addition to the ways in which their interests have diverged as of late. Panelists included: Kemal Kirisci, professor, Bogazici University in Istanbul, Soli Ozel, professor, Kadir Has University in Istanbul, and Omer Taspinar, nonresident senior fellow, the Brookings Institution. Panelists raised the importance of the U.S. taking Turkish concerns into account despite the ups and downs of their relationship. They maintained the two countries currently find themselves in a sort of “Golden Age,” especially since the Arab Awakening reiterated the geostrategic importance of Turkey in the region. Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Israel did not affect its significance for the U.S. Eventually, Israel and Turkey will come to understand the importance of a stable cooperation between the two and the cost is too high for them to sever relations completely.
The panelists believe the Turkish government is slightly disappointed with the United States’ reaction to the conflict in Syria and its affect on Turkey. The government also hopes that further addressing of the “Armenian Genocide” can be put off until 2015 (the 100 year anniversary). According to the panelists, Turkey finds itself in a volatile neighborhood but given the right support from the U.S. and good relations with its neighbors, Turkey can fill an economic and a leadership vacuum, as it continues to assert itself as a regional power.
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Panel Analyzes Roles of Western Balkans, Turkey in Arab Awakening
AHI attended a panel discussion analyzing the role of Turkey and the Western Balkans in the Arab Awakening, December 5, 2012. The Center for Transatlantic Relations sponsored the event. Panelists included: Ambassador Joško Paro, Croatian ambassador to the U.S., Mujo Selimović, CEO, MIMS Group; Saoussen Mahjoub, vice president, Tunisian American Young Professionals; Pinar Ipek, visiting scholar, Center for Transatlantic Relations; and Andy Mullins, visiting fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations. They discussed the democratization process in the region, what it means to northern Africa and compared it with that in the Balkans.
The nature of the conflicts in the two regions is different, prompting differences in their transitions. Nationalist and sectarian violence in the western Balkans indicates, however, that the violence can be overcome. The importance of Islam for residents of the regions is also different when comparing North African countries with the western Balkans. For example, many of the Muslims residing in Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina did not and continue to not play as large of a role in the democratization of their countries. Therefore, North African countries can learn more from the transitions in Turkey and Central Asia. Both regions continue to struggle with a weak civil society and the difficulty of quickly building a state that is responsive to its citizens. However, North African countries need to mirror the regional cooperation found in the Balkans if they hope to succeed. The resources and time that Washington and the EU devoted to Balkan development is missing from North Africa, providing them with additional struggles. Turkey, in its position at a crossroads, can serve as the bridge, bringing many of these countries together, believe the panelists.
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Panel Features Two Former U.S. Ambassadors to Turkey
AHI attended a policy forum, “Turkey Rising: Challenges and Prospects for the New Administration,” sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 14, 2013. The forum examined Turkey’s domestic transformation as well as its regional role within the Middle East and featured three panelists: Mr. Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Ambassador Ross Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey (2005-2008); and Ambassador James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey (2008-2010).
Soner Cagaptay analyzed two domestic aspects of Turkey’s current transformation: political and economic. With regard to the political situation, Cagaptay argued that Turkey should undergo a profound political transformation under the rule of a single party, AKP, under which the relationship of state and religion should be revived. Concerning economics, Turkey is the largest economy in the region and it yearns to change the sub-regional inter-state system of the Middle East. Cagaptay described Turkey as the “Brazil of Latin America” in that it has considerable soft power but lacks hard power within the region. To this end, Turkey needs NATO, and specifically, the United States for security reasons in addition to a type of constitutional reform that will launch a liberal democracy based on freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
Ambassador Ross Wilson discussed Turkey’s economy and U.S.-Turkish relations. Regarding the former, he argued that Turkey has undergone a major economic transformation during the last decade that will make it one of the 10 most advanced economies by 2025. However, to get there, Turkey needs to tackle two major issues: unemployment and educational reform. On U.S.-Turkish relations, the ambassador believes it is better now than probably ever in the history of the two countries. Ultimately, U.S. foreign interests include maintaining close collaboration with Turkey in the region, he concluded.
In his presentation, Ambassador James Jeffrey stated U.S. foreign policy needs to have continuity in the Middle East and closer cooperation with Turkey, as a regional power, can help achieve this goal. He maintained Turkey can be a reliable partner with which the U.S. can address and tackle a plethora of issues, including the future of Iraq, the conundrum of Kurdistan, the future of Assad’s regime and energy security in the Middle East.
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Turkish MP Discusses Political Divide in Turkey
AHI attended a January 18 event on Turkey and Europe at the Institute of Turkish Studies at Georgetown University. Turkish Member of Parliament Safak Pavey, a member of the Republican People’s Party, led the discussion about the role of democracy within Turkey, and more broadly, within the Middle East.
Pavey described the political divide between the Right and the Left across the Turkish political spectrum in the post-Cold War era. The Political Left is comprised of reformists, mainly from the working class, who yearn to advance a social welfare system. The Political Right, on the other hand, is comprised of conservatives who want to advance a more traditional agenda with the minimum possible intervention of the government on the individual.
According to Pavey, in present-day Turkey there is a clash between the Right and the Left with the biggest divide over religion. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is more religious-oriented and longs for a conservative society whereas the CHP is more liberal and believes in the separation of religion from politics. Pavey argued AKP has a fanatical veil and will eventually fall victim to nationalism and conservatism. Pavey believes Turkey is able to fuse together 21st century Islamic and democratic principles. However, she strongly contendsthat this new dynamism should be channeled into the protection of secularists and into the advancement of equal rights, especially for women. Pavey criticized the current government, arguing that major issues still remain the same, including poverty, income inequalities, unemployment and lack of green policies. Overall, for MP Pavey, the fault line between Islamists and Leftists in Turkey is not nationalism per se, but secularism.
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Greece and the Economic Challenges Ahead: A Conversation with Greek Opposition Leader Alexis Tsipras
AHI attended a presentation at the Brookings Institution on the current situation in Greece with main opposition leader and president of SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, on January 22, 2013. Tsipras described SYRIZA’s philosophy, classifying it as a political party with a progressive agenda, yearning to change the policies of the current Greek Government in order to bring stability to the international political system. He also spoke about the state of the Eurozone crisis and its effect on Greece and the global system. Tsipras explained Greece has structural impediments that the country needs to tackle such as the banking system, the inability of the state to facilitate economic growth, and the many difficulties small businesses face in order to be successful.
The European Union regards Greece as a workshop of austerity policies, according to Tsipras. Structural impediments of the European Union are another major factor in the progression of this crisis as well. In Greece, the major issues are: a recessional economy, fueling social unrest; public fiscal adjustment in the history of the West, the culture of “kleptocracy,” and the vicious cycle of recession. Greece’s public debt is the result (or symptom) of an everlasting recession, a depressed electorate, the Greek “brain drain,” and skyrocketing unemployment. The widespread tax-exemptions for the country’s wealthiest citizens have not helped an already desperate situation.
In Tsipras’ opinion, the austerity measures enacted in Greece have fueled social unrest and political turmoil. Opponents of SYRIZA say that this is a party interested in breaking Greece’s ties with the West, undermining the Memorandum of Understanding or even making Greece a “North Korea of Europe.” Tsipras dismissed these claims. SYRIZA wants to keep Greece in the European Union. “We are a European political party,” he said. “However, the policies must be implemented in the interest of the people.” He emphasized the importance of wanting to save Greece without letting it become destroyed and keeping Greece in the Eurozone without continuing the self-destructive policies of the Memorandum of Understanding. Tsipras clarified his party’s stance on the Memorandum, stating it has already been broken by the current reality in Greece and that SYRIZA is interested in renegotiating the Memorandum. Europe needs a New Deal against poverty, misery and depression, he said.
In the question and answer portion of the program, Tsipras explained the “radical” label affiliated with SYRIZA, insisting that “radical,” as it relates to the political party, is breaking from the current political status quo. SYRIZA is “radical” in the sense that the party wants to break from the logic of the past and bring something new to the table.
In commenting on Greece’s foreign policy, Tsipras stated that Greece should continue to hold the rules of International Law as their standards. Comparable solutions need to be found on issues such as FYROM. A relationship with Israel is important as well but not necessarily one that focuses on military cooperation.
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Former Ambassador Discusses Turkey-Russia Relations
AHI attended the discussion led by Ambassador Ross Wilson, director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council and lecturer for the Elliott School of International Affairs on the complex relationship between Turkey and Russia at the George Washington University Elliot School of International Affairs, February 13.
In focusing on the bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia, the ambassador did not emphasize disagreements over policy, regional conflicts, or international organization dynamics. Both governments make a concerted effort to maintain good relations and this is supported by the lack of public criticism that comes from the highest levels within their governments, he said. Both administrations refrain from critiquing the policies of the other.
The ambassador noted energy, trade, and investment are the main source of their collaboration, being that there are 32 billion dollars in trade a year between the two. Sixty percent of Turkey’s energy imports come from Russia and Russia is planning to build a nuclear power plant in Turkey. Generally, their areas of cooperation overshadow issues where there might be disagreements, which include how the conflict in Syria should best be resolved, details of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, missile defense, the construction of a radar station in Turkey and the deployment of Patriot Missile batteries in Turkey.
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The Perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2012
Survey results on Turkey’s perception in the Middle East in 2012 were the center of a discussion held at the Center for American Progress, February 12. The results were presented and discussed bySabiha Senyücel Gündoğar, director, TESEV Foreign Policy Program; Mensur Akgün, director, Global Political Trends Center; Yavuz Baydar, columnist, Daily Zaman; and Brian Katulis, senior fellow, Center for American Progress.
Administered under the title, “Understanding Turkey’s role in the region is critical to E.U. and U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the wake of the transformations reshaping the Arab world,” the survey’s purpose was to gain an understanding of range of regional perceptions of Turkey.
According to the survey results, Turkey is perceived to be in the most positive light within the Middle East in addition to being considered an influential political power and political model for its neighbors. “Turkey wants to be the leader of change” was also a theme echoed in the survey results.
During the question and answer portion of the program, an attendee pointed out that none of the questions posed in the survey looked at attitudes toward Cyprus and/or the prospects for energy cooperation and discovery with regards to Cyprus. Brief comments were made about Turkey’s role in Europe, the frozen nature of its EU accession process and the potential for a future “sectorial” or virtual membership, at the very least.
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AHI Takes to Capitol Hill as 113th Congress Gets Underway
AHI met with the staff of several key members of Congress, including those that serve on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, as a means of reaching out at the start of the 113th Congress.
AHI met with the offices of: U.S. Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; Dina Titus (D-NV), Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chair, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL).
Staff members were provided copies of the one-hour PBS documentary, “Cyprus Still Divided: A U.S. Foreign Policy Failure” and overviews of the policy statements advocated by AHI.
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AHI Capital Report, Vol. 5 Issue 1